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"Food Available in the Jungle" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following article on food available in the jungle for soldiers "living off the land" was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 21, March 25, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


In Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 19, p. 49 some of the "dangers" of the Tropics were pointed up to show that, to a large extent, they were over-emphasized, or their true significance distorted.

The following report of an American Army officer is intended to show the possibilities of "living off the land" in the jungle and to describe the customs of the natives in preparing meals made up of the various types of food locally available. The experiences recounted are the result of a 4-day experimental reconnaissance.

*        *        *

Eight noncommissioned officers of the 1st Battalion and myself accompanied two French officers and two platoons of the New Hebrides Defense Forces (native troops), on a 4-day reconnaissance trip up the Teouma River. The primary purpose of the trip was to see if it were possible for 75 to 100 men to live off the land indefinitely in the jungles of this island.

Although 3 days' rations were carried by each man, very little was touched except tea and biscuits. It was conclusively proved to my satisfaction that men who are resourceful and who will take the time to learn a little jungle lore can easily live and thrive healthfully in these jungles all about us.

a. Types of Food

To list by group all the various foods we found in the jungle:

Meats      Fruits
Wild chicken Bananas (all year round)
Wild duckOranges (May, June, July)
Wild pigeon Tangerines (May, June, July)
Wild cattle Lemons (May, June, July)
Wild pigBread fruit (February, March)
Flying foxWild raspberries (September, October)
Fish (mullet) Nakarika (October, November)
EelPapaya (all year round)
Fresh water crawfish (prawn)Mangoes (October, February)
Vegetables all year round)Nuts
TaroCoconut (all year round)
YamNavele (September, October)
Hearts of palm trees Water vine
Hearts of pandamus

b. Poisonous Vegetation

We learned that there were seven varieties of nangalat, a poisonous leaf that upon contact with human flesh produces an instantaneous burning sensation and itching that lasts usually about 1 week. The native remedy is to rub immediately the juice from the stem of the poisonous nangalat (the same one that touched you) on the affected part. The worst variety of nangalat can be recognized by the red veins running all through the leaves and by the escalloped edges of the leaves. There is also a poison tree called the "goudron," which is easily distinguished by its coal black sap which invariably runs profusely down some part of the trunk. If you sleep under this tree, you will be taken sick and suffer with a severe headache lasting a long time. If you cut into the tree or in any way contact the "black blood" (as the natives call it), you may get a severe poisoning which puffs up the skin of the face and hands with a very dangerous and painful rash. Once subjected to this poisoning, one need only approach within 50 feet of a "goudron" tree to get the same poisoning all over again. Some people have been known to have been so severely poisoned that they never were completely well again.

c. Lumber Products

We learned that the bark of the rotin (rattan) tree (the wood that all the fences around us are made of) makes a rope of any desired size. It is practically impossible to break even a fine thread of it. The bourrée tree is also excellent for this purpose.

We learned to recognize several very hard woods that are excellent for building anything you wish to last for a long time.

There is a very common bush all about us from which is extracted ricin oil; it is used to produce a high-grade aviation oil.

d. Methods of Cooking

An interesting thing was to see how the native troops cooked the fish, prawn (crawfish), and meat that we ate. There were two methods used in cooking the fish. The first method was to clean and scale the fish, and then wrap them up in wild banana leaves. The bundle was then tied securely with rotin-bark twine, placed on a hastily constructed wood griddle, and roasted thoroughly until done. The second method was to wrap up the fish in the same manner, and then place the bundle well down inside and underneath a pile of stones which had been heated in advance until they were red hot.

The crawfish were dumped alive into a hollow section of bamboo about 2 feet long and thus roasted over the open fire. The bamboo chars, but does not burn through. They were very delicious. Meat was cut into small chunks and packed down into this same type of bamboo roasting stick. Meat cooked this way would last from 3 to 4 days without spoiling, if left inside the bamboo stick with the ends sealed. The meat for immediate consumption was cut into steaks and roasted on sticks much as we would roast "hot dogs."

Yam, taro, manioc, and wild bananas were cooked in the coals, and tasted not unlike potatoes if you stretched your imagination a little. Hearts of palm made a refreshing salad, and papaya a delicious desert.

All the wild meat was gamey, and generally a little tough. However, it tasted mighty good after a long march.

e. Methods of Fishing

The natives used two methods of fishing. If a large quantity of fish is desired, they seek out a good deep pool where fish are in considerable numbers, and toss in a hand grenade. This usually yields anywhere from 20 to 60 fish. The largest were about 15 inches long. If a few fish were desired, the natives would scrape a little bark from a navele tree, wrap it up in a leaf, and, wading with the leaf in one hand and a machete in another, drop it over a pool of fish or even a single fish. The curious fish would swim up to the leaf, and, when they did, the juice from the bark of the navele tree would knock them "groggy" and they would float up to the surface in a daze, easy prey for a machete.

f. Shelter

The natives would construct a combination bed and shelter against the rain in about 15 minutes. The bed was built about 3 feet above the ground by laying stout but pliable reeds over a framework supported by forked stakes. Several layers of large, fine ferns were then put on, thus forming a very comfortable bed. Another series of longer, forked stakes were placed alongside the short ones to support a roof about 6 feet above the ground. The roof was constructed in the same manner as the bed.

g. Water Rope

The natives showed us what they called a water rope. It is a vine, and when cut each foot yields about a teacup full of water. They would deftly cut off a 2-foot length and, holding it up, let the fresh water run into their mouths.

h. General Description of the Country

The country was very rugged. After the first day we were forced to wade practically all the time, as the river banks were either too rugged and steep to climb readily, or the jungle so thick as to make it practically impossible to continue without first cutting a trail. The river banks were so steep, and the foliage so dense, that observation was very limited during the whole trip. However, an unnamed mountain west of the Teouma River was a prominent landmark and could be seen intermittently. We passed it the last day, going about 2 miles beyond it up the Teouma. The last of our trip, I took a French noncommissioned officer and three natives with me. We disrobed; half swimming and half wading, we went a mile above the last fordable part of the stream. On this venture, in one case we swam between a narrow gorge 10 or 12 feet wide with sheer, black, rocky walls towering 100 feet straight up over our heads. The natives told us that about 8 to 10 miles further upstream we would come upon a 100-foot waterfall, and several small ones, coming down from the summit of Mount McDonald.

In order to get any military information about the topography of the jungle we traversed, it would be necessary to cut a trail up to the ridge leading directly to Mount McDonald, the highest point on the island. The French officers knew the jungle as well as the natives, and they were most helpful and cooperative throughout the entire trip,

The purpose of the trip from the point of view of the native troops was to harden them. We marched in the mornings and hunted, fished, built camp, and made minor reconnaissances in the afternoons. We covered about 8 to 10 miles each morning, carrying about a 40-pound pack, including weight of weapon and ammunition.


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